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Bullying and harassment: can we solve the problem?

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The prevalence of sexual harassment and bullying in medicine has recently been highlighted in the media. This matter is not, of course, restricted to medicine. However, in medicine, harassment and bullying appear to be most evident among very hierarchical, male-dominated specialities such as surgery.

Although the focus of the complaint alluded to above was the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), all colleges, and their specialist societies, must respond to these allegations. In Australia, these colleges and societies are responsible for postgraduate training of medical specialists. They produce a highly-trained, fit-for-purpose doctor based on a sound clinical curriculum and appropriate skills training.

The Colleges already have codes of conduct and a limited capacity to counsel, censor and discipline Fellows, but these have not worked and a new approach is required. First, they must seek information to determine the extent of the problem, understand the perspective of those who have been harassed or bullied, and consider what options are available to solve the problem. The RACS has commissioned an expert panel to, in effect, perform a root-cause analysis of the problem, and make recommendations on how to solve it. In response to the panel’s findings, new empowered policies and new educational models must be developed.

Lucey and Souba have suggested a shift away from classical educational paradigms…